Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The signatories of the Harper's letter defend their paid speech against free speech

Today, Harper's published "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate" with 150+ signatories affirming "robust and even caustic counter-speech" but denouncing "calls for swift and severe retribution." Later, three of the six mentioned types of "retribution" involve people being "fired" or "ousted", which leads the signatories to "fear for their livelihoods" and the potentially "dire professional consequences" of "mistakes". That is, these "professionals" resist those they perceive as "amateurs", whose failure to follow proper rules of discourse threatens their ability to make a living. The letter defends "free speech" but is ultimately more about their own opportunities to continue to get paid for their own speech even if they make "mistakes". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 July)



Cecilia Woloch said...

Sorry, I have to disagree. The signatories of this letter are personally well beyond,in terms of accomplishment, being threatened by the thought police. I mean, you're talking about Noam Chomsky, about Reginald Dwayne Betts -- a Black ex-con who's become one of the most lauded poets in the U.S. I think the people who signed the letter are more alarmed by the degradation of the level of discourse, about what's happening in the intellectual and moral atmosphere. To me, it looks like Trumpism on the right and Trumpism on the left. I don't even understand what some of these comments about the signatories having some kind of personal stake in the whole thing have to do with the letter. I see a real disconnect here, as if the people ranting about the letter haven't read or understood the letter at all. I also suspect that some of them may have no idea who the signatories are, other than JK Rowlings, whose signature seems to some people to have invalidated all the others. Oh, please. Come on. We have to do better than this. We have to be able to think and feel in more nuanced ways than this.

Andrew Shields said...

Thanks for commenting, Cecilia. I have received several comments on this post that read it as saying "signatories" as a reference to the specific people involved, which is understandable. But in using that term, I am not considering any particular signatories, or any knowledge I may or may not have of their individual positions or actions. Rather, I needed a term to speak about what the text says, and "authors" did not sound right in this context. Perhaps a better title would have been "The Harper's letter defends paid speech against free speech".